Preparing for an Executive Interview – How To

Preparing for an executive interview is critical in today’s challenging and competitive market. Navigating this high-stakes process requires more than just highlighting your professional journey; it demands showcasing your leadership skills, strategic thinking, and adaptability in the face of challenges. This article is here to assist you, with best practices for executive job interviews, using a strategic 30/60/90 day plan, and typical questions you may face. If you are ready to ace an executive level interview, then this comprehensive guide is your roadmap to being prepared.

Comparing Professional and Executive Interviews

When it comes to professional interviews, your hard skills and ability to execute specific tasks take center stage. You might face questions about sales results, technical skills, or managing a project.

However, an executive interview operates on a broader and more strategic level. Here, your leadership acumen, decision-making ability, and experience handling high-impact scenarios are discussed in greater depth. The questions that you should expect in an executive interview are more focused on your leadership style, your capacity to drive organizational change, or how you’ve led teams through challenging situations.

Executive interviews also involve a broader spectrum of stakeholders. You might meet with other executives, board members, or even key shareholders. Instead of focusing solely on your skills, these stakeholders will want to understand your vision for the organization, requiring a well-articulated strategic plan. Oftentimes, you will likely find yourself interviewing with a recruiter/headhunter, HR, the direct leader, 2-3 executives in the same area, potential ‘partners,’ and possibly members of the board.

In addition to this, executive interviews may include psychological or aptitude tests to gauge your cognitive abilities and stress resilience. This assessment method can offer deeper insights into your compatibility with the demands of the role and the company culture.

Researching the Company

In preparing for an executive interview, conducting thorough research on the company is incredibly important. This investigation goes beyond just understanding the company’s products or services—it includes researching the organization’s mission, values, culture, and strategic goals. It also means staying informed about recent company news, performance trends, and industry dynamics. Additionally, it’s researching the leadership team, understanding their backgrounds, career movements, and additional nuggets you can learn from platforms like LinkedIn. Understanding the competitive landscape and the unique position the company holds within it is crucial too. This depth of knowledge will enable you to tailor your responses to align with the company’s trajectory and showcase your potential contribution to its strategic objectives. In addition, it showcases your genuine interest in the role and the company, a factor that can significantly influence the interview’s outcome.

LinkedIn offers a unique feature on company pages that provides insights which can offer an additional viewpoint when researching the company. Check out both the Life section and Insights (available with LinkedIn Premium) to garner additional information.

Request a Pre-Interview Prep Call

Requesting a pre-interview prep call with the executive recruiter (if you are working with one) is a strategic move that can offer valuable insights and enhance your preparedness for the upcoming interview. Since the recruiter is closely aligned with the hiring company and has a deep understanding of the role and its requirements, they can provide guidance on what to expect during the interview process. During the call, you can ask clarifying questions about the role, the company’s expectations, and the interview structure. You can also gain insights into the company culture and the key attributes they are seeking in an executive candidate. This conversation can provide you with a more nuanced understanding of the position, allowing you to tailor your preparation more effectively and approach the interview with increased confidence.

Prepare a Confident Introduction

Having a confident and well-structured response to the “tell me about yourself” prompt is critical in an executive interview. This question often sets the tone for the rest of the conversation, and your answer can significantly impact the interviewer’s first impression of you. It’s your opportunity to succinctly outline your career progression, highlight key accomplishments, and demonstrate how your experiences have prepared you for the role at hand. Your response should tell a coherent and compelling story that aligns with the job description and the company’s needs. It’s also your chance to exhibit some personal qualities, revealing the person behind the professional achievements. A well-crafted response to this question can position you as a strong and memorable candidate, setting a solid foundation for the rest of the interview.

Hint: You can create a PowerPoint slide showing both your personal life and professional career progression. Things to include may be a picture of your family/pets, hobbies, and logos of the company’s you’ve worked for.

Mastering Behavioral-Based Questions

The cornerstone of any executive interview is behavioral-based questioning. The questions are designed to probe past experiences to predict your future performance, specifically in situations that require executive decision-making and leadership.

As you prepare, consider the challenging situations you’ve navigated, the high-impact decisions you’ve made, and the leadership strategies you’ve employed. Reflect on these experiences, encapsulating the problem, your actions, and the resulting outcomes. This practice of self-reflection is pivotal to successfully answering behavioral-based questions.

Common questions to expect in an executive interview might include:

  1. Can you describe a situation where you led your team through a significant change or challenge?
  2. How have you handled a high-stakes decision with limited information?
  3. How have you managed a situation where you had to lead your team through a period of substantial change or uncertainty?
  4. How have you handled a situation where your team was underperforming? What strategies did you employ to turn things around?
  5. How would you describe your leadership style.
  6. Why do you want to be a leader in our organization?
  7. Describe your previous leader. What leadership qualities did you most admire?
  8. What areas do you believe you can improve in?

Your responses should exhibit your leadership acumen, decision-making skills, ability to manage change, and proficiency in conflict resolution. Each question is an opportunity to demonstrate how you can bring value to the organization at an executive level.

Ask Questions

Asking thoughtful questions in an executive interview is not only encouraged, it’s essential. The questions you pose reveal your level of preparation, your understanding of the role, and your interest in the organization. Furthermore, they provide an opportunity for you to assess the company’s alignment with your career aspirations and values. Inquire about the company culture, strategic direction, and expectations for the role to gain insights that can’t be found in a job description. Additionally, asking questions about the challenges and opportunities associated with the position can demonstrate your strategic thinking and problem-solving skills. Remember, an interview is a two-way street; while the company evaluates your fit for the role, you should also be assessing the organization’s fit for your career goals and professional growth.

Navigating Psychological and Aptitude Tests

In the executive hiring process, psychological and aptitude tests are increasingly common. They offer unique insights into a candidate’s cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, and stress resilience—attributes critical to successful executive performance.

These assessments are not designed to be ‘passed’ or ‘failed’ but to give a holistic view of your leadership style and how it might align with the organization’s culture and goals. Whether it’s a personality test or a cognitive ability assessment, your approach should be one of authenticity. Trying to game the system can lead to misalignment between your genuine work style and the expectations of the role.

Prepare by familiarizing yourself with common types of assessments, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Hogan Personality Inventory. While you can’t study for these tests per se, understanding what they measure can help you approach them with an informed and relaxed mindset.

While the prospect of psychological and aptitude testing may seem daunting, remember that it’s just another tool to help potential employers understand how you work. Embrace it as an opportunity to demonstrate your suitability for the challenging and rewarding role.

Remember, as you embark on navigating C-suite interviews, the key is authenticity, preparation, and understanding the unique demands of an executive role. In the next section, we will help you map out a standout 30/60/90-day plan—an essential component in exhibiting your strategic thinking.

The 30/60/90 Day Plan

A 30/60/90 day plan is more than just a strategy—it’s your vision for the organization materialized. It allows you to demonstrate strategic thinking, articulate your understanding of the role, and convey your commitment to driving results.

When creating your plan, keep the following considerations in mind:

  1. First 30 days: Focus on learning and understanding. Include getting acquainted with team members, understanding the business model, learning about current projects, and identifying immediate needs.
  2. 60 days: Start to integrate and participate. Begin to apply your knowledge, propose initiatives, and make minor adjustments based on your findings during the first month.
  3. 90 days: Take action. Outline plans for process improvements, strategic initiatives, or other actions that will contribute to the organization’s goals.

It is becoming increasingly common to present your PowerPoint slide during the interview process. When putting this document together, consider also creating a slide on ‘About Me.’ It is more than likely that you will be asked the question of ‘tell me about yourself’ and coming prepared with an addition slide will make you standout.

Sample of a 30/60/90 day plan

Other Key Metrics for Interview Success

Apart from the areas we’ve discussed, there are additional metrics critical to your success in an executive interview. These include:

  1. Industry Knowledge: Demonstrate a solid understanding of industry trends, challenges, and competitors. Your ability to discuss these factors intelligibly can significantly boost your credibility.
  2. Cultural Fit: Show that you align with the company’s culture and values. From your leadership style to your personal beliefs, the interviewer will want to see that you would be a good fit.
  3. Emotional Intelligence: Your ability to manage your emotions, understand others’ emotions, and navigate interpersonal relationships tactfully is vital at the executive level.
  4. Communication Skills: Clarity in your communication, whether written or spoken, is crucial. Your capacity to articulate your thoughts effectively can leave a lasting impression.


As you gear up to prepare for an executive interview, remember that thorough preparation and authenticity are your greatest allies. From behavioral-based questions to psychological tests, your 30/60/90 day plan, and other key metrics for success—each component of the executive interview is an opportunity to showcase your suitability for the role.

Whether you’re an executive veteran or a rising leader aspiring to enter the C-suite, navigating the complex landscape of executive interviews can be challenging. However, armed with these insights, you are one step closer to acing your executive interview. Best of luck as you embark on this rewarding journey!

About Simply Great Resumes

Simply Great Resumes, led by Kerry Gustafson, provides unrivaled resume writing and career coaching services. As Milwaukee’s best executive resume writing service, we deliver personalized career strategies and easy-to-use ATS-friendly resume templates to help you excel.